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A No Bull look at the Denver Broncos free agency

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Pursue Malik Jackson or Brock Osweiler first? Should we be talking about Danny Trevathan? What side of the ball needs help more heading into 2016 for the Denver Broncos?

We are all getting pretty excited about the free agency period that is coming up. The past week I've seen a ton of the usual for this time of year: misinformation, unrealistic expectations, and a bunch of disregarding direct evidence of how this team operates. Let's break it down No Bull style and get some more realistic priorities.

Amazing Talent is Amazing

Let's set the stage with the one thing most people have right: Von Miller is an absolute rock star of a player. Any talk about not signing him long-term is silly.

There are some key things to remember about Von's situation and what will come into play in the negotiations with his agent and the team:

  • Denver can put the Franchise Tag on him and absolutely will do so if they don't get a deal worked out quickly enough.
  • Ndamukong Suh's contract is not the starting point for this negotiation. Suh made it to full free agency and a mediocre team with lots of cap room signed him to a dumb contract. That point could be argued in a couple years if Von wants to work under the Franchise Tag until he's free to go.
  • That being said, the salary cap has been raising at an alarming rate and this leads to premier players getting paid a bunch.
  • Elway isn't backed into a corner of having to pay him silly amounts of money each year. I'm interested to see what creativity the Broncos show in this contract.

Major Priorities: Defensive End vs Quarterback

We have a nice big long list of free agents. At the top you have two that have a big market in the NFL at large for their Unrestricted Free Agent skills: Malik Jackson and Brock Osweiler. There are fairy tales going around out there that say we are going to keep both. I think it is hogwash. Let me break down the why's for you:

Malik Jackson

Malik Jackson is a supremely gifted defensive lineman. I think the world of his play. He's disruptive, powerful, sound in technique, and gives great effort. Every team looking for help on their line is going to be dying to talk to Malik in free agency. Pair that with all the very generic "right things" Malik has been saying in his interviews. He and his agent know where he's at and they know they have good leverage to get what they want.  Why?

  1. We aren't using the Franchise Tag on him - it would cost too much and it may be needed for Von.
  2. He just won a Super Bowl and was an impact player all season long for his team.
  3. He's a rare defender who can both rush the passer and is very stout against the run.
  4. Derek Wolfe had a similar year stat-wise to him and got ~$9M/year.

Between the talk, his attitude (no blame, I can just tell he wants to be paid), and his play I just don't see how he's going to take any kind of home-town discount to stay in Denver. I'm sure he would genuinely prefer that, but only if he gets paid what he thinks he's worth.

Keep in mind we have arguably the best Defensive Coordinator and Defensive Line Coach in the league. Jackson is a 3-4 Defensive End. He's one cog in a very large wheel of our defense. No, we can't replace him with another guy that is just as good, but we can succeed and adjust the defense to fit the personnel we have.

Get used to the idea of Malik playing for another team, Broncos Country. It is in my mind 95% likely.

Brock Osweiler

Here's a guy who has a ton of leverage as well. Denver won't want to Franchise Tag Osweiler. That would cost way too much. There's a very short list of Free Agent QBs out there in the NFL right now and none of them light the world on fire. Brock is young and shows a lot of upside. He has a very good argument for wanting to get paid well and there are teams out there without QBs who will have money to spend.

It isn't all doom and gloom for Denver here though. We do have some big positives that should be a part of negotiations:

  1. Denver drafted him and has paid him well to sit and learn.
  2. Denver has a GREAT defense and very good weapons on the offensive side of the ball.
  3. He knows the system very well.
  4. He is here right now with his family.

Negotiations for Brock are very important to this team. I liked what I saw from Trevor Seimian, but please keep in mind that was him playing against non-NFL players late in preseason games. We can draft a guy, but new QBs aren't reliable in the first year of action. If we really want to win from now on, Brock needs to stay in blue and orange.

Did we forget something?

Keep in mind every year there have been big questions about what Denver is going to do since Elway was hired. Elway has a history of getting very solid players to sign with Denver in free agency (Peyton Manning, Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward, Darian Stewart, and Emmanuel Sanders to name a few).

We just won a Super Bowl without any semblance of consistently good QB play or running game on offense. If there are players out there who want a ring, we are a destination location.

I believe Elway takes his job very seriously and is getting better at it each year (started off wowed by offense, then adjusted to build the best defense in the NFL, etc). We may not sign anyone at all that most of us would like to keep from last year. Rest assured if we have guys leave, Elway will have a plan to reload that position.

Other unrestricted free agents I really like

I'm an eye-test guy. I love reviewing our games (preseason, regular, and especially postseason!). Here are the guys that stood out to me from this year. In my opinion the Broncos should try very hard to keep them if they are in good health:

  • Evan Mathis - he was arguably our best interior offensive lineman in 2015
  • Antonio Smith - solid rotational defensive lineman
  • David Bruton - Loved his play this year especially at safety. He's really gotten good at his craft over the past few years
  • Danny Trevathan - I think he'll move on because we can't pay him enough, but his play has been awesome
  • Josh Bush - I'm really torn here...his big problem is diagnosing plays. He's too slow to react, but I really liked his technique and effort. He's young enough I'd like to see him in camp at least.

Other unrestricted free agents I we can replace cheaper, younger, or both

  • Ronnie Hillman - He's a #3 RB talent to me. We can do far better in many ways
  • Jordan Norwood - Great effort, but he looks to be already at his ceiling in a position that we have decent depth at
  • Omar Bolden - Love the Special Teams effort, but he's not been able to crack any spot in the loaded secondary we have. His spot is better used on a younger guy
  • Andre Caldwell - Loved his play this year, but again youth is an actual thing GMs look at
  • Vernon Davis - Enjoy your ring somewhere else please - lack of effort and mental ability were the things that stood out about his game
  • Ryan Harris - He's a solid tackle, but we have to get fresh guys in there to improve the position with a view on the future - would like him for cheap depth if he wants to stick around though
  • Shiloh Keo - Dude's ability is just bad. He had a couple good plays from being in the right place at the right time and a whole bucket load of being a liability on the field

Money saving moves I like

  • Peyton Manning retires - we save $20M that can be used for a lot more than what we got from this position last year
  • DeMarcus Ware - We have two young studs behind him that cost a fraction of what he's scheduled to make (~$12M) Either restructure for $6M or enjoy free agency
  • Ryan Clady - Cutting him saves us about $9M in money. He's got bad injury history and we need to move forward unless he wants to take a very large cut for the team that has been paying him millions to sit on the couch on Sundays
  • Louis Vasquez - He's a great lineman, but he's a power-blocking guy and he doesn't fit the scheme very well. His cap savings (~$5.5M) make this an easy move
  • Britton Colquitt - No average punter is worth $4M